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Author Topic: "281 North Howland" Morse Code message  (Read 21282 times)

Lisa Anne Hill

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"281 North Howland" Morse Code message
« on: February 07, 2012, 12:29:21 PM »

Does anyone know if an original copy of this message exists? Did the operators (I believe it was CG operators receiving this message and passing on to Navy) type out the dots/dashes or did they translate as they heard it?
Please pardon if this question has been fielded previously - I am intrigued by this message and what it could have represented...thanks for any available input!     8) Lisa
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John Ousterhout

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Re: "281 North Howland" Morse Code message
« Reply #1 on: February 07, 2012, 01:52:16 PM »

The TIGHAR Wiki overview of the "281" message can be found at http://tighar.org/wiki/Post-loss_Radio_Messages--Overview#281_North
There's also a lengthy discussion, titled "A poorly keyed 281..." to be found at http://tighar.org/smf/index.php?topic=279.0
It's pointed out that trained operators "hear" words, numbers and letters, rather than dashes and dots, so they aren't likely to copy down anything but the words they "hear".
'Hope this helps,
Cheers,
JohnO
 
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Lisa Anne Hill

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Re: "281 North Howland" Morse Code message
« Reply #2 on: February 07, 2012, 04:31:05 PM »

John,
Thanks for the links. It's good to see there were others following where I was going with that line of thought!
Lisa
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Barry Oberling

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Re: "281 North Howland" Morse Code message
« Reply #3 on: January 19, 2014, 08:46:11 PM »

The message was characterized as being sent in “extremely poor” Morse code.  This would indicate to me that not only was it sent slowly but also was poorly spaced.  In correctly spaced Morse code the dot (dit) is the unit of measure without regard to the speed being sent.  A dash (dah) is equal in length to three dots.  Additionally the internal spacing between elements within the character being sent is equal to one dot.  For example to send the letter “a” (.-) you would in essence be sending “dit (space) dah”, and “b” (-…) would be “dah (space) dit (space) dit (space) dit”.  The correct spacing between characters (letters) is equal to three dots and the correct spacing between words is equal to seven dots.  If your spacing is incorrect what you intended to send and what was actually received could be vastly different.  For example if you intended to send the word “and” (.-   -.   -..) what could be received could conceivably be “pti” (.--.  -  ..), or any number of other combinations, if your spacing was not correct. 

Now put yourself now in the cockpit of Earhart’s Electra.  You had been in the air for twenty-plus hours and have not had two-way contact with anyone since you left Lae, in fact you have not heard anyone other than a Morse code signal from the Itasca on 7500 kcs some two and a half days ago.  You have finally found a dry spot amongst all that water and managed to get your aircraft somewhat safely down onto that dry spot.  Both you and your navigator are injured, you’re in trouble and you know it, you’re scared, and you need to try something, anything, to get some help.  Voice communications hasn’t been effective so you decide to try Morse code.  You don’t have a key (they had both been removed to save weight) but you could key and un-key your microphone to send your message.  What would you send?  Supposedly Noonan knew they were 281 miles north of the equator on some island that wasn’t on the chart you had.  You would want to identify yourself, your position and your condition as simply and clearly as possible. So you send “CALL KHAQQ TWO EIGHT ONE MILES NORTH EQUATOR BEYOND HOWLAND CANT HOLD MUCH LONGER AND STAY ABOVE WATER NEED TO SHUT OFF” and repeat it again and again and again.  What was received at Wailupe Naval Station during an hours’ time was “TWO EIGHT ONE (not 281) NORTH HOWLAND CALL KHAQQ DON’T HOLD WITH US MUCH LONGER ABOVE WATER SHUT OFF”
Wailupe was not staffed by your ordinary Navy radio operators; it was staffed by specially trained intercept radio operators.  They would have been trained to write down exactly what they heard.  They would have not added words or letters.  I would love to get a peek at their copy sheet.  This was certainly the biggest story of the time; did one of these operators keep a copy to show to their parents, girlfriend or kids?  I probably would have.  According to these specially trained operators the message was not 281… but rather TWO EIGHT ONE.  That, in my opinion, reinforces the validity of the message.  It has been established that neither Ms. Earhart nor Mr. Noonan were proficient with Morse code and it is certainly reasonable to assume that neither of them knew how to send numbers in Morse code.   

I have been an Amateur Radio Operator for more than 35 years operating CW almost exclusively and have spent many hours in the Novice portion of the Amateur HF bands, when Morse code (CW) was still a requirement to earn your Amateur Radio license, giving contacts and encouragement to new CW operators.  It was both a challenging and rewarding experience.  There was a common tendency for new operators to run their characters together, both at the beginning and at the end of words.  Proficient operators normally do not copy code letter by letter but rather by words at a time.  It is immeasurably easier to copy well-spaced CW at 30 words per minute than it is to copy “extremely poor” CW sent at 5 words per minute.

The biggest mistake of this ill-fated flight, in my opinion, was replacing Captain Harry Manning with Fred Noonan.
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Martin X. Moleski, SJ

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Re: "281 North Howland" Morse Code message
« Reply #4 on: January 20, 2014, 05:15:19 AM »

I have been an Amateur Radio Operator for more than 35 years operating CW almost exclusively ...

Thanks for the thoughtful and informative post!

I'm pretty sure that Gardner is south of the equator, not north.  The ships that set off to search the region 281 miles north of Howland didn't find anything.

Quote
The biggest mistake of this ill-fated flight, in my opinion, was replacing Captain Harry Manning with Fred Noonan.

It's not clear to me that Manning could do what Noonan could do in terms of air navigation.  There is no doubt in my mind that Manning would have found a way to communicate with Howland--he was an excellent radio operator.  The logistics problem for AE was that Manning's skills would only be needed on one or two legs of the flight at most.  Hauling him three quarters of the way around the world just for those critical portions would be hard on him as well as on Fred (and possibly Amelia, too), since there seems to have been some tension between them.  In the original plan, flying westward, the critical legs would come first (Hawaii and Howland), and Manning would have been left behind on Howland. 

I seem to remember a third party speculating that Manning lost confidence in AE's piloting skills after the crash at Luke Field. Ah, here is one source:


Message:20
Subject:Re: Manning
Date:9/23/00

From Ric

Note that I never said that Manning was dumped because he couldn’t navigate. I said that Noonan was brought aboard because Manning couldn’t do aerial celestial navigation. Manning was a sailor and his experience with celestial navigation was all from a slow moving ship at sea level. Celestial from a fast moving airplane at altitude is a specialized skill. The July 17, 1937 issue of TIME magazine carried an article about Earhart’s disappearance that was fairly critical of Amelia and the whole World Flight stunt. Here’s an excerpt:

"Several facts made it clear that much more than simple bad luck was involved [in Earhart’s disappearance]. Before the hop-off, when capable Navigator Noonan inspected what he supposed was an ultra-modern 'flying laboratory,' he was dismayed to find that there was nothing with which to take celestial bearings except an ordinary ship’s sextant. He remedied that by borrowing a modern bubble octant designed specifically for airplane navigation."

That a Pioneer Bubble Octant was borrowed from the U.S. Navy immediately after Noonan came on the scene is well documented. The instrument was technically on loan to Manning because he held a commission in the Naval Reserve.  There seems to be little doubt that Manning quit the day of the Luke Field crash. The note signing the octant over to Fred is dated March 20, 1937. Several authors have quoted Manning as later saying that he left because Amelia scared him and he was fed up with Putnam. I see no reason to doubt that.
LTM,

           Marty
           TIGHAR #2359A
 
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JNev

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Re: "281 North Howland" Morse Code message
« Reply #5 on: January 20, 2014, 06:17:50 AM »

Great post, Barry - glad to have you aboard. 

And great insight and references as always, Marty.

If hindsight tells me anything it is basically to agree with Barry's assessment of Manning vs. Noonan for this trip - the radio turned out to be the critical missing link more than that of what the aerial navigator could provide at the end of things.  Trouble with hindsight is that it is so much more accurate than dumb foresight. 

I get the impression (all it is, of course - not quantifiable) that once AE made decisions like stepping away from others like Manning (or that they may have also stepped away as noted above, fairly clearly so) the hand-writing was on the wall.  Not that Noonan wasn't clearly able at his craft - but in all I've read he seemed more willing to cast his lot with Earhart than others may have been after the Luke Field crash.

Not that some of the experts were really so sterling in all regards either - the Electra had arrived in Hawaii with dry prop hubs by report, which doesn't speak well for the thoroughness of Paul Mantz' own oversight.  Just a telling detail, IMO, of how some details were wanting here and there, and how some of the personalities carried on - nothing more than a humble opinion of my own. 

But the Manning vs. Noonan thought is worthy to me.  Moot in real terms, I realize - the deal was sealed long ago, but interesting.  If the bird was trying to communicate from dry land, Manning with a key would have been a great thing to have. 

I've always believed the '281' might have been keyed in reverse order as to proximity to the equator - that the sender might have muffed it by crudely giving position in terms of where the equator - or Howland, for that matter - was relative to the ship.  Perhaps Earhart in a bit of shock trying to peck out something and not so clearly.
- Jeff Neville

Former Member 3074R
 
« Last Edit: January 20, 2014, 09:56:50 AM by Jeffrey Neville »
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Barry Oberling

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Re: "281 North Howland" Morse Code message
« Reply #6 on: January 20, 2014, 09:22:41 AM »


I'm pretty sure that Gardner is south of the equator, not north...

Wow! (Barry mumbled with his foot in his mouth)  Thankfully ignorance is not a terminal condition...you just need to be willing to learn from it.

Barry
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Christophe Blondel

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Re: "281 North Howland" Morse Code message
« Reply #7 on: February 08, 2014, 07:34:55 AM »

Barry's argument that
It has been established that neither Ms. Earhart nor Mr. Noonan were proficient with Morse code and it is certainly reasonable to assume that neither of them knew how to send numbers in Morse code.
though questionable (not being proficient did not imply that they did not have a Morse code table with them that included the codes for numbers), somehow reinforces the idea that maybe they did not even try to send numbers, and that the received "281" was something else that trained operators misunderstood as numbers. Barry just concurs with me when stressing that incorrect spacing can make what is actually received vastly different from the original message. My explicit suggestion is in A poorly keyed 281 N ... and at the end of The most perplexing issues.

Best regards

Christophe
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Tim Collins

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Re: "281 North Howland" Morse Code message
« Reply #8 on: February 08, 2014, 09:50:50 AM »

Don't you guys know, the 281 North Howland message has already been deciphered? - http://blog.ameliaearhartcontroversy.com/281-message-cracked/

Just a little entertaining diversion for a wintery Saturday.
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Barry Oberling

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Re: "281 North Howland" Morse Code message
« Reply #9 on: February 21, 2014, 06:39:02 PM »

Don't you guys know, the 281 North Howland message has already been deciphered? - http://blog.ameliaearhartcontroversy.com/281-message-cracked/  Just a little entertaining diversion for a wintery Saturday.

The true meaning of the TWO EIGHT ONE NORTH message will never be known, in my opinion, unless it is found scratched somewhere inside the Electra’s cockpit when the plane is found.  I read the article and found it interesting, and believe the author is sincere in his belief that he has cracked the message, but feel there are some holes in his theory.  As you mentioned Tim, it provided a diversion for a wintery Saturday…and Saturdays do not get much more wintery than they do in Michigan.  It did however prompt me to take another look at the message in question.

What if the message in question, the message that was distributed to the searchers, was a smoothed version of what was actually copied between 1130 and 1230 GMT in Wailupe?  When I am copying CW with pen and paper, and miss a character I simply leave a space within the word and write down the next character.  It would seem logical to me that the operators on Wailupe would do the same thing.  There is an apostrophe in the message (DON’T) that I do not believe anyone has previously addressed.  While there is a Morse code character for the apostrophe (.----.) I personally don’t think Amelia or Fred used it that night. 

Obviously there is no way to verify this scenario but suppose, for a minute, that the “unsmoothed” message read as follows, where (        ) represents the time when no actual characters were copied. (           ) TWO EI( )HT ONE (           ) NO(  )TH (                 ) HOWL( )ND  (                   )  CALL   KHAQQ (              ) BEYO( )D (            ) NOR(     )H (          ) DONT (               ) HOLD WITH  US MUCH LONGER (          )  ABOVE WATER  (         ) SHUT  OFF.  The “smoothed” copy would then read:  TWO EIGHT ONE NORTH HOWLAND CALL KHAQQ BEYOND NORTH DON’T HOLD WITH US MUCH LONGER ABOVE WATER SHUT OFF. From my experience the spacing I have inserted to indicate that nothing was being copied is consistent with the way signals fade in and out when propagation is changing.  It takes approximately three and one half minutes to send the entire “smoothed” message in Morse code at a speed of five words per minute for both characters and spacing.  Multiplying this time by a randomly chosen factor of four to allow for a slower speed, incorrect spacing and other unknown activities inside the Electra at the time we arrive at approximately fifteen minutes to send the message. 

The only word in the received message that was repeated was the word NORTH.   If during the first unsmoothed NO( )TH the N was mis-keyed when she was trying to send the letter S (…) and sent N (-.) instead, because the mic button was not released completely between the first two dots thereby sending a dash and a dot instead of three dots, then the first assumed NORTH becomes SO( )TH…or SOUTH.  Again, this is purely speculation.

The message now becomes: (WE ARE) TWO EIGHT ONE (NM or MILES) SO(U)TH (OF EQUATOR PAST) HOWLAND (ISLAND OUR) CALL KHAQQ (WE ARE JUST) BEYOND (SHIP or WRECK) NOR(WIC)H (CITY) DON’T (THINK FRED or NOONAN CAN) HOLD WITH US MUCH LONGER (BARELY) ABOVE WATER (MUST) SHUT OFF.  Please note that while characters have been added, very few characters have actually been changed from the original message.  The reference to Noonan refers to Betty’s Notebook indicating that Noonan was seriously injured.  Noting the previously mentioned five words per minute speed for characters and spacing the message, as I have modified it, now takes approximately six and one half minutes to send, times the same randomly chosen factor of four equals twenty-six minutes.  Still short of an hour…but closer. 

If this was the message they intended to send that night would it have provided enough information to have found them if they were on Gardner Island?
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Tim Mellon

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Re: "281 North Howland" Morse Code message
« Reply #10 on: February 21, 2014, 06:57:21 PM »

Don't you guys know, the 281 North Howland message has already been deciphered? - http://blog.ameliaearhartcontroversy.com/281-message-cracked/  Just a little entertaining diversion for a wintery Saturday.

The true meaning of the TWO EIGHT ONE NORTH message will never be known, in my opinion, unless it is found scratched somewhere inside the Electra’s cockpit when the plane is found.  I read the article and found it interesting, and believe the author is sincere in his belief that he has cracked the message, but feel there are some holes in his theory.  As you mentioned Tim, it provided a diversion for a wintery Saturday…and Saturdays do not get much more wintery than they do in Michigan.  It did however prompt me to take another look at the message in question.

What if the message in question, the message that was distributed to the searchers, was a smoothed version of what was actually copied between 1130 and 1230 GMT in Wailupe?  When I am copying CW with pen and paper, and miss a character I simply leave a space within the word and write down the next character.  It would seem logical to me that the operators on Wailupe would do the same thing.  There is an apostrophe in the message (DON’T) that I do not believe anyone has previously addressed.  While there is a Morse code character for the apostrophe (.----.) I personally don’t think Amelia or Fred used it that night. 

Obviously there is no way to verify this scenario but suppose, for a minute, that the “unsmoothed” message read as follows, where (        ) represents the time when no actual characters were copied. (           ) TWO EI( )HT ONE (           ) NO(  )TH (                 ) HOWL( )ND  (                   )  CALL   KHAQQ (              ) BEYO( )D (            ) NOR(     )H (          ) DONT (               ) HOLD WITH  US MUCH LONGER (          )  ABOVE WATER  (         ) SHUT  OFF.  The “smoothed” copy would then read:  TWO EIGHT ONE NORTH HOWLAND CALL KHAQQ BEYOND NORTH DON’T HOLD WITH US MUCH LONGER ABOVE WATER SHUT OFF. From my experience the spacing I have inserted to indicate that nothing was being copied is consistent with the way signals fade in and out when propagation is changing.  It takes approximately three and one half minutes to send the entire “smoothed” message in Morse code at a speed of five words per minute for both characters and spacing.  Multiplying this time by a randomly chosen factor of four to allow for a slower speed, incorrect spacing and other unknown activities inside the Electra at the time we arrive at approximately fifteen minutes to send the message. 

The only word in the received message that was repeated was the word NORTH.   If during the first unsmoothed NO( )TH the N was mis-keyed when she was trying to send the letter S (…) and sent N (-.) instead, because the mic button was not released completely between the first two dots thereby sending a dash and a dot instead of three dots, then the first assumed NORTH becomes SO( )TH…or SOUTH.  Again, this is purely speculation.

The message now becomes: (WE ARE) TWO EIGHT ONE (NM or MILES) SO(U)TH (OF EQUATOR PAST) HOWLAND (ISLAND OUR) CALL KHAQQ (WE ARE JUST) BEYOND (SHIP or WRECK) NOR(WIC)H (CITY) DON’T (THINK FRED or NOONAN CAN) HOLD WITH US MUCH LONGER (BARELY) ABOVE WATER (MUST) SHUT OFF.  Please note that while characters have been added, very few characters have actually been changed from the original message.  The reference to Noonan refers to Betty’s Notebook indicating that Noonan was seriously injured.  Noting the previously mentioned five words per minute speed for characters and spacing the message, as I have modified it, now takes approximately six and one half minutes to send, times the same randomly chosen factor of four equals twenty-six minutes.  Still short of an hour…but closer. 

If this was the message they intended to send that night would it have provided enough information to have found them if they were on Gardner Island?

Barry, this interpretation makes a lot of sense. Thank you.

Tim
Chairman,  CEO
PanAm Systems

TIGHAR #3372R
 
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Monty Fowler

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Re: "281 North Howland" Morse Code message
« Reply #11 on: March 03, 2014, 03:08:51 PM »

Reasonable person test? Just asking.

LTM,
Monty Fowler, TIGHAR No. 2189 CER
Ex-TIGHAR member No. 2189 E C R SP, 1998-2016
 
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Doug Ledlie

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Re: "281 North Howland" Morse Code message
« Reply #12 on: May 09, 2014, 02:28:16 PM »

 From "Finding Amelia" link earlier in thread: "Keyed transmission but extremely poor keying behind carrier"

Pardon ignorance but is it odd that the radio operators didn't comment on the message being keyed with a mic button (if that is in fact the theory)...I assume they would be able to tell from what they heard whether a conventional key was being used or not.

Of course I'm not sure what "behind carrier" means...would she have to hold tx button on solid and then key by some other means?  If so, what other means would she have at hand, considering she and Fred were apparently not radio technicians and not likely to MacGyver a solution


Just trying to evaluate the possibilities whilst knowing nada about radio communications of the era
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Tim Gard

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Re: "281 North Howland" Morse Code message
« Reply #13 on: May 09, 2014, 05:16:00 PM »

There is a good deal of useful info about Amelia's radios here ...

http://tighar.org/Projects/Earhart/Archives/Research/ResearchPapers/ElectraRadios/ElectraRadios.htm

As established regarding Betty's Notebook, Amelia could duplex - transmit on one frequency (6210) while she received on another (3105).

/ Member #4122 /
/Hold the Heading/
 
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Doug Ledlie

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Re: "281 North Howland" Morse Code message
« Reply #14 on: May 09, 2014, 08:09:17 PM »

Excellent information, thanks Tim

Seems to me that a combination of:

a) a very poor morse operator (ie one who is terrible even with a proper key)
b) trying to key with a microphone and system not designed for use without a key and the inherent lag and system "noise"

would introduce double factors to ensure the morse transmitted under such a scenario would, at best, "really suck", to use the technical term.

Personal opinion - with the timing nuances inherent in morse code its actually hard to believe that anything other than gibberish could be communicated by a poor morse operator in said circumstances. I wouldn't doubt that a good morse operator with an understanding of the system at hand might be able to communicate but would probably produce a transmission that would be interpreted as "poorly keyed".
« Last Edit: May 09, 2014, 10:13:42 PM by Doug Ledlie »
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